Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano parmesan cheese.; Shutterstock ID 269346887; PO: Featured / Food Safety / Nutrition

Well not really… The actual offender here is cellulose and not actual pieces of wood.  Cellulose is a structural component of all plant cell walls and it’s naturally present in every produce product you consume.  Cellulose is a dietary fiber and has been shown to help decrease your bad cholesterol (i.e., LDL-cholesterol) and help improve bowel function.  It also helps control blood sugar levels when consumed as part of a meal.  This is because cellulose can bind/attach itself to a portion of the carbohydrates co-consumed (e.g., sugar), carrying them straight through your GI tract without being absorbed.

Cellulose is often considered “wood pulp” because many manufacturers grind up wood to extract the cellulose.  Wood is from trees, trees are plants, and all plants have cellulose.  It is completely safe… but do you ever wonder why it’s added to Parmesan cheese?  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows companies to add cellulose to foods like shredded cheese at levels up to 2-4% because it prevents the product from clumping.  Still weirded out?  You can purchase 100% pure Parmesan that’s imported from Italy, thanks to strict regulations in the country… just know you’re spending a significant amount of money for a product that will likely clump or become hard quickly.  Otherwise feel free to cut the cheese – it won’t cause you any harm, you won’t choke on splinters, and it may even contribute to a healthier diet since many individuals don’t get enough fiber.

Side note: If you have ever wondered why Parmesan is capitalized, it’s because the cheese is named after the area in Italy that produces it.  Only cheese produced in certain Italian provinces may be labelled “Parmigiano-Reggiano” by international regulations.  The U.S. uses “Parmesan” because the term can legally be used for cheeses similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano, without actually being made Italy.

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